You seat strapped and ready? Because a dark-laced triptych straight from the teat’s a coming down the pike from the mercurial Alvarius B. The wily Alvarius is, of course, the working mask of Alan Bishop, he of Sun City Girls and the founder of Sublime Frequencies – the label that opened up the world to more collected psychedelic ephemera than most can conceivably claim to have encountered in several lifetimes. Those familiar with SCG know that the trio was no stranger to voluminous releases but yon Bishop may have outdone himself here, that’s fer sure.
Considering his body of work, the most striking aspect of this set is how in line with traditional rock it hangs. For a man who’s spent his years picking though dead stock tape troves and CD-R piles in dusty markets, routinely breaking down our dearly held notions of folk, and generally scorching the sonic landscape with his own lacerating brand – this is a slight slide out of the catacombs and into the sun. Not that he’s never cut a swath across this path before, but he’s not done it so consistently and wholeheartedly since 2011’s Baroque Primitiva, and even that feels hiss-scuffed by comparison. If anything this feels like he’s tapping into his deep bench in The Invisible Hands and proving that he can tramp on your notions of underground rock and do it a damn site better than the self-important rabble he clearly sees riding high on that particular horse.
This really should be three reviews, but since the CD edition swaddles up all three of these individual LPs to a handy bound bundle and I’ve only got the sweat for one, you’re gonna need to settle for brevity. Rest easy though, With a Beaker on the Burner and an Otter in the Oven, moves through the paced phases of Bishop’s moons with a voracious appetite for style. There’s the familiar sandlewood burn of Shamanic blues filtering through much of the first tome, moss sunk and wooden, yet rooted in a ramble that burns with the wicked heart of a Southern coven. But as we ease into Vol. 2 there are moments of white hot light, moments when you think ol’ Bishop’s gone softy on you and found peace. He never lets it lay for long though. As we inch into the final chapter, the nicotine shakes return to the fold, quivering through the crumbling form of man like a colloquial cancer.
That makes this sound like a darker set that it really is. There are truly catchy moments that caught me off guard, and taken on its own Vol.2: A Mark Twain August, is a wellspring of folk-addled pop that feels like a new beginning. I found myself going back time and again for another swig at what Bishop’s been brewing. But even when he’s pulling on his Sunday shoes, there’s a strange sadness that’s tugging at the soul of Bishop, rearing its head prominently in the other two volumes. Though each could be taken on their own, I’d advise against it. The three records feed into and off of one another. The happiness can’t survive without the sadness and neither can manifest without the madness that pock marks Vol. 3 with cigarette burns. There’s no loophole to the soul and over the course of thirty five songs Bishop proves he’s willing to put in the work to take a crack at figuring out the rubric.
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